There is a certain inherent distrust between the writers (and readers) of romance fiction and the devotees of literary fiction. Sharon Pywell, in a closing statement to this book, states that she never read a romance until after reaching adulthood, when she picked one up off a lending library shelf out of sheer boredom and a lack of something else to read.
The problem with coming to romantic fiction as an adult, as an author who already writes literary fiction, is the instinct to over-analyse things. Romances are about escapism, and here is where I think this author has fundamentally missed the point.
In writing a literary fiction novel about a fan of romance novels, including snippets of a supposed 'real' romance novel, the author has managed to create a book that is the absolute opposite of escapist. Full of drudgery, cruelty, sadism and murder, reading it felt like trudging through quicksand.
Literary fiction fans are snobs; they wouldn't begin to comprehend why a supposedly 'intelligent woman' would read or write romance. Believe me, as a romance author I've encountered more than my fair share of this kind of snobbery in writers' forums. There's a certain attitude that I must be only in it for the money (that would be funny if I was making enough to live on, really).
The truth is that a romance author writes, and a romance author reads, because we love the escapism of it all, the freedom to flee from a world that is far too often full of drudgery into one full of love and happy endings all around. Worst of all, even the romance novel within the novel, The Pirate's Lover, was terrible, and certainly not something that would have seen the light of day in the publishing climate of the 1930s when it was supposedly written. It reminded me vaguely of the rape-tastic Kathleen Woodiwiss books of the early 1970s. They were dreadful then and holding a similar book up as some sort of guide for anyone to live by in any era is absolutely ghastly.
There is no shame in enjoying romance novels, but by including such a rubbish one in a literary fiction book as an integral part of the plot the author only contributes further to the (extremely misogynistic) sneering stereotypes that literary fiction authors and readers already ascribe to those who enjoy romance.
I can only suggest that the author subscribe to the Smart Bitches Trashy Books blog and start reading GOOD romance novels. Maybe then she could try writing one herself and find out what they are REALLY about. Actual plot, decent pacing, characters that draw the readers in and a happy ending for EVERYONE we've come to care about.
Any one of those things in this book might have made it a half-decent read; as it was it took me two days to wade through it when my average read time for a book of this length is about 90 minutes. Not only that but it's left me in a bad temper because of the further wedge it drives in between the literary fiction and the romance fiction community, when I started it hoping that it would do exactly the opposite - that's why I selected it to read in the first place. One star.
Not only that, but the publisher has the gall to ask $12.99 for the ebook on Amazon. SERIOUSLY. This is why indie authors are making a living and publishers are shutting up shop all over the place.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley.